Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror
Equal Justice Initiative
Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror documents EJI’s multi-year investigation into lynching in twelve Southern states during the period between Reconstruction and World War II. EJI researchers documented 4075 racial terror lynchings of African Americans in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia between 1877 and 1950 – at least 800 more lynchings of black people in these states than previously reported in the most comprehensive work done on lynching to date.
Lynching in America makes the case that lynching of African Americans was terrorism, a widely supported phenomenon used to enforce racial subordination and segregation. Lynchings were violent and public events that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials. This was not “frontier justice” carried out by a few marginalized vigilantes or extremists. Instead, many African Americans who were never accused of any crime were tortured and murdered in front of picnicking spectators (including elected officials and prominent citizens) for bumping into a white person, or wearing their military uniforms after World War I, or not using the appropriate title when addressing a white person. People who participated in lynchings were celebrated and acted with impunity.
The report explores the ways in which lynching profoundly impacted race relations in this country and shaped the contemporary geographic, political, social, and economic conditions of African Americans. Most importantly, lynching reinforced a narrative of racial difference and a legacy of racial inequality that is readily apparent in our criminal justice system today. Mass incarceration, racially biased capital punishment, excessive sentencing, disproportionate sentencing of racial minorities, and police abuse of people of color reveal problems in American society that were shaped by the terror era.
No prominent public memorial or monument commemorates the thousands of African Americans who were lynched in America. Lynching in America argues that is a powerful statement about our failure to value the black lives lost in this brutal campaign of racial violence. Research on mass violence, trauma, and transitional justice underscores the urgent need to engage in public conversations about racial history that begin a process of truth and reconciliation in this country.
“We cannot heal the deep wounds inflicted during the era of racial terrorism until we tell the truth about it,” said EJI Director Bryan Stevenson. “The geographic, political, economic, and social consequences of decades of terror lynchings can still be seen in many communities today and the damage created by lynching needs to be confronted and discussed. Only then can we meaningfully address the contemporary problems that are lynching’s legacy.”
Lynching profoundly impacted race relations in this country and shaped the geographic, political, social, and economic conditions of African Americans in ways that are still evident. Terror lynchings fueled the mass migration of millions of black people from the
the South into urban ghettos in the North and West. Violence was used to maintain racial subordination and segregation for generations. Lynching reinforced a legacy of racial inequality that remains largely hidden and ignored; those impacted by lynching have
yet to be publicly acknowledged as victims.
EJI's Community Remembrance Project aims to elevate this history by collecting soil from the sites of more than 4000 documented lynchings in 12 Southern states between the end of the Civil War and the end of World War II. Gathered together, the jars of
soil form a tangible representation of the lives lost and widespread terror inflicted.
EJI also joins with communities to erect historical markers at lynching sites. Public acknowledgment of mass violence is essential not only for victims and survivors, but for perpetrators and bystanders who suffer from trauma related to their participation in
systematic violence and dehumanization.
EJI believes this work is critical to building a lasting and more visible memory of our history of racial injustice. Through this reckoning with the truth of our nation's past, we can begin a necessary conversation that advances healing and reconciliation.